By Cameron Dickinson of The National Game
All the speculation finally ended at 3 p.m. yesterday when Fabio Capello put the nation out of its misery by naming the 2010 World Cup squad.
Gone were the shock call-ups of the past (Theo Walcott in 2006 anyone?) as the manager appears to be placing his faith in those that have experience at the international level, rather than those with fewer caps.
Already some are willing to write off the tournament as they do not agree with some of the choices made by the Italian, but then this would be the case no matter who was in the final 23. At least the questions can stop for now, and we can now look forward to the greatest event in the world — which kicks off in just nine days.
The Not So Lucky Seven
Theo Walcott made the headlines with his inclusion in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s squad four years ago and his name is again on everyone’s lips, but for very different reasons. The Arsenal wingers is the biggest omission from Capello’s squad.
The 21-year-old started both friendly matches against Mexico and Japan, but showed nothing like the form which ripped Croatia apart in qualifying, rather the youngster looked frustrated in both games. Capello obviously believed this lack of form and confidence could cost his side dear when the going gets tough this month.
The man himself commented on his disappointment, telling BBC Sport: “I am very disappointed not to be included, but completely respect Mr Capello’s decision. I would like to wish the team the best of luck and hope they have a really successful tournament.”
The other slight surprise is the exclusion of Man City winger Adam Johnson. Johnson had impressed during his brief cameos in the recent games, and was one of the top performing players towards the end of the Premier League season, following his transfer from Middlesbrough. Many felt that his ability to play on the left wing would make him a valuable commodity this summer.
Less surprising were the omissions of Leighton Baines, Michael Dawson, Scott Parker, Tom Huddlestone and Darren Bent, all of whom have little international experience and those that played a part in last week’s friendlies did little to persuade anyone of their value in South Africa.
So Who’s Going?
No shocks here as the three men all named in the preliminary squad make it through to the tournament proper. Robert Green, David James and Joe Hart all had a chance to impress against Mexico and Japan, and all seemed to be in good form, particularly Green in the first half last Wednesday.
The main question mark is who is number one? Green seems to be the man in favour at the moment, but don’t rule out a surprise as all three have a creditable claim to the jersey.
The usual suspects John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson made it as expected, and they will, in all probability, make up the starting back four against the USA, barring injury.
Two men who have played very little international football in recent years are in. Jamie Carragher, who retired from international football in 2008, was persuaded to return by Capello due to major injury problems in defence and he has made it in to the 23.
His ability to play across in the back four seems to have secured his place in the squad and his experience will be vital to the players who have not played in a World Cup before.
Tottenham’s Ledley King’s sensational end of season forced him back in to contention for a place, despite major worries over his ability to play more than one game in a week. He is another with experience in international competitions, having played a big part in the Euro 2004 campaign and Capello seems to value that in a center back, over Dawson’s more enthusiastic approach.
The major surprise defensively is the inclusion of left-back Stephen Warnock, who played no part in the recent matches. Baines and Cole both got the nod ahead of the Aston Villa man and his chances of making it to South Africa appeared to slim. But Baines’ poor performance against Mexico appears to have dropped him down the pecking order. However, don’t expect him to play a part unless Cole picks up an injury.
The final defensive pick is Matthew Upson who played in a number of qualifying matches due to the injury troubles of Ferdinand and his inclusion was almost guaranteed as back-up to the regular starters.
The major question mark in midfield was over the fitness of Gareth Barry — who missed both the friendlies through injury but the Man City player passed a late fitness test and will almost certainly start the first group game, such is his importance to the way the team plays.
The identity of the wingers was another subject talked about a lot in the build up to the squad announcement. The four selected are James Milner, Aaron Lennon, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joe Cole; all right-footers, though two can play on the left if needed. The most surprising is Cole who has suffered major injury problems this season but came on against Japan and impressed enough to force his way in.
The other three are in a different mould to Cole. All have pace to burn but are not known for their end product, though Milner has been a creative force for Aston Villa this season, suggesting that side of his game is improving. This pace will be crucial for a side lacking in it in other areas and will add a potential plan B when things aren’t going well.
The final three in the middle are Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Michael Carrick. Gerrard and Lampard were certainties to go and, like Barry, will start the opening game a week on Friday, but Carrick’s place was less certain following a dreadful performance against Mexico, but Capello obviously believes his experience will be important.
There was almost no speculation regarding the identity of the four strikers who would be picked. Many felt that Darren Bent’s insipid performance against Japan had virtually booked Emile Heskey’s place on the plane.
A lot of people talk about Heskey’s importance to the way England play, but his lack of international goals will always hang over him. However, his ability to play with almost any type of striking partner could make him an important part of the squad.
Wayne Rooney, Jermaine Defoe and Peter Crouch are predictably the other names on Capello’s list for different reasons. Defoe has been in great form for club and country recently. Crouch’s record at this level is second to none. And Rooney is the best player we have.
Time for Action
It’s obvious that Capello has opted for the reliability of experience over the fearlessness of youth. Heskey, Carragher, King and Wright-Phillips are just some examples of players who have been on the fringes of the squad in recent years but who find themselves on the plane.
This could act as an extra incentive as many of the selected players know that this could well be their last chance to win football’s biggest prize and they will not give up their final opportunity easily.
Of course it remains to be seen whether this will be enough to take England past the quarter-finals for the first time since 1990, but what is certain is that the nation is fully behind them in their bid to make history. And that alone should be enough to guarantee at least some success this summer.
Cameron Dickinson is a writer for The National Game in England. His column appears courtesy of The National Game.